By January 10, 2012 1 Comments Read More →

Olive Kitteridge and Book Group Dropouts

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge has become a book group darling and discussions about the book have been shared here many, many times. So it came as quite the surprise to me when I engaged a reader in a discussion this weekend to learn that they stopped attending book groups because of Olive Kitteridge.

This reader said her problem with book groups was that she often finished books wondering why they got published and chosen for discussion. She leveled many criticisms against Olive Kitteridge–that Olive, as an older woman, wasn’t portrayed as intelligent at all, that it was a shame that she had to pair off with a man at the end, as if that was all that feminism came to. I rejoindered to her list of complaints, “Well, but you’re still talking about her!”

Irascible is the word that comes up most often in connection with Olive’s character. As Ted wrote in his post, Olive isn’t easy to like. She is supposed to rub you the wrong way. And, there is no doubt, that some readers will find a growing sympathy for her character and others will still be appalled or annoyed with her.

My conversation with this reader made me think about book group dropouts and what, if anything, we can do about them. For one, some complaints are legitimate and the point, after all, is not necessarily that everyone like the same book or even like it equally. But it did make me reflect on how often I rely on a kind of consensus.

How to you enable a breadth of opinions about a book to be expressed? How do you allow for dissent and dissasisfaction but maintain a valuable experience for all? How do you recognize and reach out to that reader who might just be or think they are fed up with book groups? Is it our job to bring them back in or keep them from leaving?

Everyone, I imagine, has had good and bad experiences with book groups, in some cases both in the same group. It can be hard to be the one opposing voice about an author or book. But there is a give and take, in discussion and in book selection, in any group. There is a compact that is entered into to try new things, to be respectful of the opinions of others and to share honestly your impressions and reactions to what you read.

Can we blame it on Olive or is there some other lesson here? Any book group dropouts care to share?

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

1 Comment on "Olive Kitteridge and Book Group Dropouts"

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  1. heykitto@gmail.com' Patricia Kitto says:

    Great subject for discussion!

    Firstly and simply, I in no way blame Olive!

    Secondly (and a little less simply), my feeling is that if you can’t learn from a book that you don’t like (or a character you don’t like, a subject you don’t like, etc.), you have no business being in a book club. Also, there have been books, characters, subjects, etc. that I THOUGHT I didn’t like until I went to book club and then after hearing other people’s take, found I felt differently. Again, that’s why I’m in a book club! If I only wanted to read books I wanted to read, I wouldn’t be in a book club!

    So, as to the following question: Is it our job to bring them back in or keep them from leaving? I say, “No.” It is our job to be open, respectful, inclusive, inquisitive and eager to learn – even from the authors, characters, books, subjects, and opinions of our fellow book club members we don’t like.

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